Publishing First Steps: Finding Your Market or Lack Thereof

In a post last week, I mentioned that when I decided to start writing a novel, I made the rookie mistake of beginning the process by writing. One of the key steps I failed to take was researching which publishing market would want to buy what I was creating. I didn’t really see why it mattered. I just needed to write a great book with an intriguing premise and compelling characters. After that was done, then I’d do some research and send it off to the publishing houses most likely to be interested. Again, this seemed completely reasonable.

Note to self:  Do not assume anything in the publishing world is reasonable or logical. Assume you know nothing.

So what did I do that was so horrible? I made my heroine nineteen. Those of you who know about publishing are probably already gasping and clutching your chests. For the rest of you, who like me did not know about this huge faux pas, let me explain.

I love young adult fantasy, so I was aiming to write for that genre. However, I didn’t want to have to mess with my character going to high school. I could have solved this problem a la Vampire Dairies (the TV show, not the books) by having my characters simply never go to school. Seriously, how have they not all been expelled for truancy? They only show up for school dances.   I don’t mind that the teenagers in the show never go to school, since nothing interesting ever happens to them in history class anyway.

vampire diaries class

Still, this solution for the high school problem seemed like cheating to me, so I instead I made my main character a few measly years older. No biggie.

Wrong.  The young adult genre is one of the best for letting its authors take risks. There aren’t many hard and fast rules, but there is one:  your characters have to be between the ages of 12 to 18. When I finally stumbled upon this rule, I did not want to accept it.

But what about all the crossover success of Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter? I had just read an article about how 55% of young adult books were now being bought by adults.  Surely that huge adult audience of young adult fiction would not care that my protagonist was nineteen. In fact, they probably don’t, but YA publishers care a lot. Just because adults are reading them now doesn’t mean the 12 to 18 rule has changed.

I was discouraged, but not defeated. Okay, so YA wouldn’t want me anymore.  I’d just head over to the adult fantasy market. Not so fast. Publishers of adult fiction don’t want to read about nineteen-year-olds, either. I had stepped into a no man’s land that I didn’t know existed. Books are not written about characters in their early twenties. I dare you—try to think of one single book you’ve read where the characters were in their college years. If you think of any, leave a comment (button is to the left near the blog title), because I’d love to read it. I could only think of one: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

Only one option seemed to be available to me; namely, have a good cry and eat some chocolate. Thankfully, before I picked up the Kleenex and Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie, my stubbornness kicked in, and I did one last search for a market for my book. What I found was the emerging market called New Adult.

New Adult targets readers ages 18 to 30, appealing to both older teens and adults. The characters in New Adult usually face more mature challenges than in YA books. For a full description for the difference between New Adult and Young Adult, Writer’s Relief has an excellent write up.

So problem solved, right? Not quite. New Adult is so new that Publishers are still a little wary. So far the genre exists almost entirely in self publishing. Book sellers aren’t even sure where to shelve the books that are being published. Also, New Adult is currently almost entirely contemporary romance, with very little subgenre breakouts. While there is romance in my book, it’s first and foremost a fantasy novel. Perhaps the worst part is New Adult’s awful nickname, “YA with porn.” Ick.  That doesn’t seem like the best tagline for a genre trying to gain respect in the industry, although I’m sure someone other than the NA authors themselves saddled them with that label.

I haven’t given up, and I’m trying to explore New Adult more, as well as other options in adult fantasy fiction. However, much like exploring how to write better, this is a lesson I wish I had learned before I started writing. Would I have made my heroine 17 instead of 19? Maybe. At least I would have known I had an uphill battle ahead of me.

Research your potential market. Find out its rules and preferences. If you know of other such industry no-no’s, share your wisdom in the comments section.

Next Up:  Establishing Your Platform, or, When I Gave in and Reached for the Kleenex and Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie